WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans in the House of Representatives are taking a defiant stand against President Barack Obama in a federal budget blueprint that takes direct aim at the U.S. social safety net, even as the president reaches out to the opposition in an effort to end Washington's gridlock.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate, on Tuesday proposed a 2014 budget that calls for reducing the U.S. government deficit by lowering spending on medical coverage for the poor and elderly and cutting other domestic programs such as college tuition grants. It also calls for repealing Obama's health care overhaul.
Senate Democrats, who control their chamber, plan to offer a counterproposal on Wednesday that calls for higher spending on domestic programs and additional tax hikes on top of the higher rates imposed on the wealthiest Americans in January. That's a challenge to Republicans, who oppose any tax additional increases.
With such sharp partisan differences, there seemed to be little chance of either plan becoming law or for a reconciliation of the two. But a compromise isn't needed just yet - these budget plans are meant only to be blueprints and are not binding on the government. They merely set out broad goals for further legislation on taxes and spending.
Still, the plans are noteworthy because they spell out the divisions that have led to a series of fierce budget disputes that have at times brought the United States to the brink of possible default. Those differences prevented Democrats and Republicans from reaching a compromise to avoid automatic across-the-board budget cuts this month that neither party wanted.
The two parties are now trying to work out an agreement on funding the government for the rest of the current budget year, with the prospect of a government shutdown if they fail to reach an agreement by the end of the month.
The White House weighed in against the Ryan budget plan Tuesday, saying it would protect the wealthy from tax increases and privatize the federal Medicare program for the elderly.
"While the House Republican budget aims to reduce the deficit, the math just doesn't add up," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. "Deficit reduction that asks nothing from the wealthiest Americans has serious consequences for the middle class."
Obama has been making a push for a bipartisan agreement, making rare trips to Congress twice this week. He was meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday and Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.
There has been some progress in the Senate, where top Democrats and Republicans released a bill to avoid the immediate threat of a government shutdown. It would deny Obama new money for implementing first-term accomplishments like new regulations on Wall Street and his expansion of government health care subsidies, but provide modest additional funding for domestic priorities like health research and highway projects. Passage in the Senate this week appears likely.
By contrast, this year's dueling Republican and Democratic budget proposals are more about defining political differences
Ryan's committee is scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday, and the Senate Budget panel is slated to vote on the Democratic plan Thursday. It promises new tax revenues but few cuts in domestic programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care coverage to the elderly and poor.
"You cannot continue to kick the can down the road," Ryan said Tuesday. "You cannot continue to spend money we just don't have."